Healthy children learn better — that's a fact. Research has found that students' health affects their grades, attendance, behavior and whether they graduate. And we also know that education is one of the many social determinants that influence a person's health throughout the life span. Fortunately, public health and education systems have a long and fruitful history of working together to keep students safe and teach them healthy habits. Still, there's much more to do to make sure our schools are healthy and supportive environments — and you can help.
Did You Know?
- Obesity prevalence among children and teens has nearly tripled since 1980. Today, about 17 percent, or 12.5 million, of children and teens ages 2 to 19 are obese.
- In 2011, only 29 percent of high school students surveyed nationwide took part in the recommended 60 minutes per day of physical activity and only 31 percent attended a daily PE class.
- In 2009, about one in 10 children had asthma. Overall, health care costs associated with asthma among adults and children topped $50 billion in 2007.
- During the 2006–2007 school year, more than 31 percent of students ages 12 through 18 said they were bullied at school. Sixty-two percent of school employees surveyed in 2010 said they witnessed bullying two or more times in the last month.
- Every day, nearly 4,000 young people try their first cigarette and about 1,000 will become daily smokers.
- In 2011, 16.7 million children lived in food-insecure households, meaning they didn't have enough nutritious food to lead a healthy life.
What Public Health Teaches Us
- Advocate for smoke- and tobacco-free policies at schools as well as on college campuses.
- Learn about a school's asthma policies: Does the school keep asthma action plans on file? Are students allowed to carry inhalers? Does the school nurse know which students have asthma? Support policies that reduce asthma risks, such as prohibiting school bus idling and using non-toxic cleaning supplies.
- Organize for school-wide policies and action against bullying and create a safe space for kids experiencing bullying to get help.
- Encourage your child's school to stop stocking soda and junk food in school vending machines and to put restrictions on the types of foods sold in schools that are outside official school meal programs.
- Speak up about the importance of physical education in school.
- Volunteer for school health education efforts that teach kids to say no to tobacco, drugs and alcohol.
- Support evidence-based sexual health education that's aimed at preventing disease and unplanned pregnancy and is inclusive of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students.
- Encourage schools to get involved in the national HealthierUS School Challenge, a voluntary certification initiative that recognizes schools that have created healthier environments by promoting nutrition and physical activity.
- Learn more about First Lady Michelle Obama's Let's Move! campaign and how it can promote more physical activity in schools.
- Encourage local leaders to support transportation planning decisions that incorporate safe routes to walk and bike to school. Get involved in your local Safe Routes to School Program or organize an event during International Walk to School Day.
- Let your national leaders know that you support the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs, which provide all children with access to nutritious meals, regardless of their family's income.
- Involve the larger community in recognizing bullying and developing community-wide responses to bullying.
- Write a letter to the editor or to decision-makers in support of local, state and federal investments in school-based health centers. These centers provide a range of health services, from chronic disease management to mental health counseling, and often serve as critical safety nets for vulnerable children and adolescents.
There is much more you can do to support safe environments and adequate for children at school. To learn more, visit www.schoolbasedhealthcare.org.